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The rivalry between the Harvard men’s tennis team and Fresno St. is so bitter that the two squads are willing to continue it a week later and 2,000 miles away.
With both teams in Montgomery, Ala., for the Blue-Gray Classic, animosities that had been festering since last year’s meeting in California turned Saturday’s matchup into a dogfight. And due to inclement weather, the match was suspended in its final stages and will be completed next week when Harvard travels to California.
“We caught them stealing our hand signals in doubles [last year],” sophomore Jason Beren said. “It was at their place; their crowd was really into it. On neutral ground, we really wanted to get into them. We wanted it more than anything.”
With stormy weather playing havoc with the schedule, the No. 30 Crimson faced Fresno St. last Saturday night in the second match it had played that day. Juniors David Lingman and Mark Riddell dispatched the Bulldogs at No. 1 doubles, and the tandem of sophomore Jonathan Chu and junior Chris Chiou clinched the point for Harvard.
But Chu, who had been playing No. 3 singles, injured his shoulder, forcing Harvard coach David Fish ’72 to bump everyone up a spot and insert Beren at No. 6. It was Beren’s first dual match of the year.
Lingman, at No. 1, defeated Hector Almeda 6-3, 6-1, but it would be the Crimson’s only win in the top four spots. Co-captain Oli Choo then beat Andy Simm handily, 6-2, 6-1, to tie the match at 3-3.
All eyes turned to the No. 6 match. Beren and opponent Sergim Modoc were locked in a tight struggle. Modoc had taken the first set, 6-3, but Beren had taken the second 7-5 with momentum swinging his way.
With Modoc showing signs of fatigue and the clock approaching midnight, Beren finally came through with a service break. He was up 3-2 later in the third set when a light mist and drizzle started coming down, and the umpires debated the wisdom of continuing the match.
“It was actually [Modoc] who first called for stopping play,” Beren said. “He was looking for any way to escape without a loss. I was eager to keep playing.”
They did, but only briefly before the drizzle forced a suspension at deuce around 11:40 p.m. Since Harvard could not change its travel arrangements, the match could not be completed in Alabama.
Instead, since the Crimson is heading to California for spring break, the Fresno St. team and Modoc will meet the Crimson on Saturday at Stanford to take care of unfinished business.
“It will probably go down as the longest match in history,” Beren joked.
The Alabama trip was a mixed bag for Harvard in general. It was a change of venue from the indoor courts in Cambridge. A match scheduled for last Thursday was entirely wiped out by strong rain, and the conditions put the Crimson at a disadvantage when it lost last Friday to No. 60 Middle Tennessee St., 4-3.
“It was our first day outdoors [since the fall],” junior Cliff Nguyen said. “It was pretty humid on Friday, 82 degrees, and we started getting a little tired.”
The Crimson learned from the experience and recovered the next morning against No. 53 Indiana St. After securing the doubles point, Harvard struck first in the singles. Chu defeated Dmytro Istuganov at No. 3 despite getting blanked in the first set, 0-6, 6-2, 6-2. The Sycamores’ Henry Choi then beat Nguyen 7-6 (4), 6-2 to pull within 2-1.
Riddell swept at No. 2, and Lingman fought back to overcome Vedran Vidovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 at the top spot. The Crimson secured the win at 4-1, and the final two singles matches were not played.
—Staff writer Rahul Rohatgi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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